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The growth of private English-medium schools in Almora February 28, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : India , trackback

Mark Jones

The Kumaon is the little patch of the Himalaya tucked up where India, Tibet and Nepal all meet in a tangle of green hills, plunging valleys and icy peaks a few hundred kilometres Northeast of Delhi. The geographic and cultural heart of the region is the old hill town of Almora that straggles along a spur at about 1500 meters that runs off from a higher forest clad massif. The icy peaks of the great Himalaya can be seen from many places around town.

Almora is centred on a flagstone paved pedestrian market lined with many medieval buildings featuring elaborately carved wooden facades. Off the market runs a maze of alleys and galleries that bustle with life. Forest and farmland fringe the town. Almora is far from a pristine museum piece, but for those of you who have visited the Himalaya, think of it a miniature blend of old Kathmandu and old Shimla.

I have been lucky enough to be a frequent visitor to Almora over the years and regard it as in some ways my second home. I have seen it grow and change, watched the arrival of cars, satellite television, mobile phones, the internet and felt it move from isolation to integration with the global world. One of the biggest institutional changes I have noticed, particularly over the past decade, is the mushrooming of private English-medium schools. They seem to have sprouted up just about everywhere.

This India-wide phenomenon has been widely mentioned in the academic literature, but as far as I can tell there has been no quantitative analysis of it. Official statistics on the issue are sparse and as writers like James Tooley have noted, with so many of these schools not officially registered, the available statistics are not necessarily very meaningful. To fill this gap I recycled a methodology developed by Tooley (whose issue is school privatisation not English-medium schools) and conducted a foot-based census of all schools in Almora during the late northern autumn and early winter of 2011. Finding my way along the fringing forest trails, quiet country lanes and bustling galleries of the town was a lot of fun. Pity about all the feral dogs.

Figure 1

The local guestimate was that Almora had around 50 schools. I found 48. (I may have missed a few, but then maybe I didn’t.) I have included 46 of the schools in the census data mapped out in figure 1 above. One small government school declined to participate in the census (as is its right) and I chose not to collect data on the large English-medium school run by the Army located in the middle of the large Army base. I have learned over the years that the Indian Army does not appreciate foreigners wandering around their facilities asking questions, especially if they have a GPS in hand. Further, one school asked for their position not to be mapped. To comply with the sentiment of this request I have included them in figure 1 in a dummy position.

My perception that there were a lot of English-medium schools in Almora these days was not ill-founded. In fact the majority of children in Almora now go to schools that describe themselves as English-medium (25 schools) or Mixed Hindi-English-medium (6 schools).

The schools in my census had a total enrolment of 15438 students. Of these, 7360 (48%) were in English-medium schools – slightly more than the 7287 (47%) that were in Hindi-medium schools. Another 791 students, around 5%, were enrolled in schools that described themselves as Hindi-English mixed-medium schools.

Figure 2

This is quite a change from the time when I first visited Almora in the 1980s when only a tiny proportion of schools in Almora offered English-medium or Hindi-English mixed-medium instruction (figure 3). The growth in English-medium schools is especially marked in the early years of this century. During this decade, English-medium schools with a current enrolment of 3309 or 21% of all current enrolments were established.

Figure 3

Another feature of this growth is that nearly all the schools established in Almora since the 1970s are private schools and that virtually no government schools have been established in Almora since Independence (see figure 4). Perhaps this can be explained by the government believing the existing stock of schools was adequate or that their priority was in other less developed parts of the state (Uttar Pradesh until 2000). But given the tiny proportion of state funds allocated to primary and secondary education since Independence by most state governments, it is perhaps better explained as that mass literacy and mass education has not been seen as a state government priority.

Figure 4


1. Patrick McCartney - March 2, 2012

This is very interesting stuff. It would seem these results shed new and timely light on the current reasons why English medium schools are so popular in India, or at least the Indian Himalayas.